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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Is the F-35 a flying Maginot Line?

Earlier today, I was reading a debate about the pros and cons of the F-35 fighter. The gist was 5th generation fighters like the F-35 are needed to counter the 5th generation fighters being developed in other countries. Supposedly, having better fighters than everyone else is the reason US ground troops have not been attacked by enemy aircraft since the Korean War. I think a better explanation is the fact that the US has not fought a war with any advanced nation since WW2.

Germany lost WW2 despite having the most advanced aircraft and tanks. They lost the air war because they ran out of pilots and they lost the ground war because they were outnumbered.. There are many examples in history where some new technology is seen as a magic bullet- tanks, aircraft, submarines, etc. Over and over again, military leaders learned the hard way that every weapon has a countermeasure. For that matter, every tactic and strategy has a countermeasure. Even the countermeasures have countermeasures.

This focus on air-to-air combat is a good example of missing the big picture- strategy. A strategy comes from identifying an enemy's vital organs and then making a plan to cripple them. The people the US are currently fighting have no air force and the US is unlikely to fight against any air force in the near future. So it is a waste to plan or build for such a war, at least for now.

Even when you know who the enemy is and where they will attack, it is hard to prepare. The US knew the Japanese were likely to attack the planes at Pearl Harbor, but they thought it would be by sabotage. For that reason, they parked them close together so they could be guarded more easily. Unfortunately, those planes were much easier to destroy when they were attacked from the air.

In chess, it's pointless to guess what a possible opponent might do. The only way to prepare for a chess game is to play as much as possible. This gives experience in improvising and deep-thinking. Likewise, I think the US should spend less on new weapons and much more on war games and studying recent wars, not ones from 50 years ago.

The Maginot Line failed because the French believed the Germans would not be able to go around it. I hope the F-35 is not built on faulty assumptions about the future of air warfare. 

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